Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Creative renewal through action
I’m speaking this Friday, 6 pm, 31 July, Burnside Uniting Church. Here’s the blurb
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is a world leader in missional thinking and sadly is leaving Australia to return to New Zealand in
August(September actually) this year. We are indeed very fortunate Steve has agreed to lead our next metro Gathering teaching sessions.
Creative renewal is only possible through action. What actions lead to renewal?
I will be reflecting on leadership lessons from my years as Principal at Uniting College and offering some reflection on the Uniting church into the future. (If I can find the words. I’m still quite unclear on how I want to say what I want to say.)
Friday, July 03, 2015
Today is a second day of study leave, a few days in which I am seeking to write about, and reflect upon, my learnings in leadership from recent years of ministry.
I am in the Blue Mountains, surrounded by bush and quiet. I am staying with my supervisor, who continues his delightful ministry of naming reality, asking provocative questions, helping me circle around my worlds, both inner and outer.
The Old Testament lectionary reading for today, and in particular four phrases, proves strangely clarifying.
I will stand at my watch-post
Write the vision
Make it plain
So that a runner may read it.
Let me explore these phrases from the bottom back up to the top.
I write for a person. A runner. For individuals and teams, whether wondering, willing, or wanting, running the journey of innovate. I write that they might run sustainably, strategically. I want to offer them some signs that point to processes of innovation that have reality, integrity, creativity and a deep compassion and care for people and places.
I write with a purpose. I seek to avoid fancy words, clever theories and quick quotes from leadership heroes. Instead, with honesty and integrity, I want to make as plain as possible the real life learnings from innovation. I want to share stories that offer hope. Organisations do change. People do grow. Resources can be aligned. Access can be enhanced.
I write by choosing to stand at the watchpost. Rather than look forward, rather than theorise, I choose to look back, to particularise. In standing, I find myself slowing and as I slow, I feel once again the particular emotions, demands and experiences of leading an organisation in a complex system in a rapidly changing world. It is hard to stand. It is hard to lead. It is costly to innovate. Yet such is the place from which these words, these leadership learnings, must emerge.
Monday, June 22, 2015
lightbulbs and 10 year olds: innovation and communication.
I was shown this image on Friday. It was suggested as a summary of some group work that I was a part of.
A lightbulb has gone off. An important and significant discovery has been made. But that is not enough. We need to think about how to communicate that lightbulb moment.
In this image, this means getting down the ladder and going across to the watching child. We need to ask ourselves “How would we tell a 10 year old?” This is an important communication exercise, in which seek to clarify our ideas by asking how we communicate this light bulb moment to a 10 year old.
There is that old joke. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is meant to be one.
But how realistic is that? It is hard for one person to do, most especially for the person closest to the lightbulb. It is their idea and its natural to be blinded by the brilliance.
So in this image, and in the work on Friday, a number of us were working together. Some were offering creativity, others listening ears, others structuring and framing. It adds an interesting perspective on the task of innovation. It is not enough to have a bright idea. There is another whole piece around communication and collaboration of that idea. Innovation must be shared. It might begin with one, but there are many gifts involved in this process.
Who is the leader in this description? Is it the one person who has had the “lightbulb” moment? Is it the child, who is providing an essential role in helping clarify? Is it the people around, encouraging, listening, reframing?
In reality each person is performing an essential role. Each person is offering leadership. Because it does take many people to change a lightbulb.
Friday, June 05, 2015
We’re built for change
In just under four months, I conclude as Principal of Uniting College and shift countries to begin as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This has a lot of implications personally and professionally.
Professionally, I lead a team of 17 people. An essential dimension of my leadership includes helping them process transitions. This means that a challenge of the next few months includes helping them process my transition.
It is always more complicated leading your own transition. It is tempting to envisage working until the last day, closing the door and slipping out, leaving behind a to do list for the incoming. But that would be remiss of my leadership not to include this personal focus. It would point to a set of values that sit in opposition to a culture of communal innovation. It would work against a culture “built for change.”
So I have spent a number of months with my supervisor and line manager thinking through how to lead through this particular transition.
Yesterday I initiated with the team a conversation about the transition. Let me tell you what I did and what emerged. But first, let me share with you the structures that influence the timing. (more…)
Sunday, May 31, 2015
leadership formation: an indigenous experiment in oral learning
I have been working with a group of indigenous ministers over the last 6 months, praying about what Aboriginal leadership development might look like amongst the Aboriginal churches in Adelaide. This week we participated in the following learning experiment.
First, welcome. We begin with worship, with song written by a gifted, local, indigenous leader.
Second, Biblical immersion. We hear the Scripture. We hear again, tracing the Scripture onto our hands. We hear the Scripture for a third time, drawing the Scripture onto a blank hand. Together, using ears, hands, eyes, we immerse ourselves in ancient story. The hope is that this bypasses writing and text. It returns us to the Scriptures as aural. This connects with those who have highly developed skills in ways of learning other than Western.
Third, working with the story. In Adnyamathanha culture, we learn from a story by asking three questions. What is the rule for living? What does this tell us about the environment? What do we learn about the supernatural? We apply these indigenous questions, asking each other what we learn about God, about ministry, about life? The discussion is rich.
Fourth, we hear the story again. Each of us are given a blank hand, which we hold. The immersion in Scripture, the discussion together, is gathered into a single question on a single blank hand. We ask ourselves – what do I most need to learn from this story? Who can I learn from?
This is our homework. We will connect our learning journey with our wider community. Next time we gather, we will come enriched by the wisdom of our ancestors. This will become our “assessment.” We will re-tell the story, enriched both by our discussion together and our seeking out of wisdom from our wider community.
Monday, May 18, 2015
growing leaders by growing teachers
Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!
Uniting College exists to grow life-long disciples and develop effective leaders in mission. In order to do that, we must begin by growing ourselves. This includes our skills and abilities as teachers.
Here’s one way this process works for us at Uniting College. Most higher education involves student evaluations. These are completed by students. The results are summarised and provided back to lecturers. Generally this is where the process stops. The feedback is useful. But what happens next? How do you encourage intentional growth as teachers?
First, along with the student evaluations, each lecturer is also provided with a response sheet, which they are invited to fill in. It has four questions.
- Summarise the positive responses
- What concerns did students raise about their learning in this unit?
- What improvements will you make to address these concerns?
- Any other comments or quality improvements for unit curriculum, teaching and learning?
Four simple questions that invite us as teachers into appreciative inquiry and to think more intentionally about how we can grow as teachers. The four questions that can be answered as simply, or as deeply, as an individual wishes too. The questions invite us as teachers to think about growth. Lecturers are invite to return these to myself as Principal.
Second, I read them. I reply to each one. I affirm the strengths I see, celebrating the commitment to the skill and craft of teaching I see. I provide comment on the concerns raised, sometimes suggesting they are being too hard on themselves, sometimes inviting deeper reflection. I remark on the desired improvements, noting trends I am observing – themes that emerge across the range of topics an individual teaches.
I am wanting to individualise and contextualise, to let each lecturer know I care about their craft of teaching. Some of these emails replies are over two pages in length, as I engage with their desire for growth.
Third, all these individual email responses that I make to lecturers are de-identified and summarised. This report goes to our Ministry Studies meeting. As an entire teaching team, we consider the report. It is a snapshot of our collective strengths as a teaching team. It is a mirror on potential areas for growth. Together we wonder what we might do as shared and appropriate professional development.
Fourth, this information is fed back to students. They who have taken the time to provide feedback, are informed about actions that are being taken as a result of their feedback. We hope it encourages them by saying something about our commitment to grow as teachers.
It was this process that took up a good deal of my time today. It was this process that generated the comment with which I started this post; “Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!” Because growing leaders begins by growing teachers.
Friday, March 27, 2015
developing a bottom up vision statement
On Tuesday, I was in a group in which the purpose question was asked: “What is the purpose of your organisation?” The whole question of why an organisation exists is crucial. It provides clarity. It allows you to say yes to things and no to things. It provides motivation.
At our team meeting on Thursday, I decided to take the story from Tuesday, tell it and ask the question of the team. “What is the purpose of our organisation?” In our case, we’re a theological college. We are in a re-building team phase, with at least four folk new in the last few months. So the question would not only provide clarity, guidance and motivation. It would also help with team building and re-building.
In order to resource the conversation, I used the Signposts resource.
It involves a whole range of pictures, printed on card, with a few phrases. It’s visual and tactile. I spread them around the room and invited the team out of their seat and to each find a card that they felt answered the question – What is the purpose of a theological College? Returning to our seats, we each shared our cards.
I then offered two options. (We normally set aside 30 minutes in our team meeting for devotion and community time,). One option was to share with each other a moment recently when we had seen our card in action. This took the ideal of why we exist and located it in our life as a group. It allowed for encouragement.
The other option was that everyone was asked to leave their cards on the table. And if folk wanted, they could try and find a sentence that wove together all of the cards. This was a far harder option and I wasn’t sure if there would be any takers, let alone any success.
But I was amazed, within 15 minutes, the group reported back they had a sentence. Within 30 minutes, with the help of one question (What is our purpose?) and a set of visuals, we had developed, from the bottom up, with the input of every voice in the team, a rough vision statement.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
engaging innovation in cultural change
As a Uniting College, we have a number of innovation projects that this year are moving from dream to reality.
We have a Certificate in Bible and Leadership for English as a Second Language. This began as a dream at the start of last year. Funding was obtained and by the middle of the year, a person appointed. After research and networking, at the start of this year they offered a trial topic. Seven students, from six different nationalities have begun.
We have a Big Year Out, designed to grow young adults in ministry and mission. Last year it was touch and go, with four students and a lot of learning. This year we have seven students and a much clearer idea of where we are going.
We have a Diploma of Ministry, with a specialisation in chaplaincy. This began back as a spark late in 2012 and since then we’ve offered an annual topic in the Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy. This year we’re about to graduate our first student, who has completed the entire course by distance, from New South Wales. It’s a great story of an innovation becoming a reality.
Together, these programmes are changing the shape of our student cohort. It is younger, more multi-cultural with a greater breadth in conversation, vocation and passion.
Each of these areas are led by a dedicated and gifted leader. They are part-time, so there is a risk of a sense of isolation from the wider Uniting College team. So as part of our team retreat this year, I designed a process that would help the team connect with these parts of our life.
Here’s what I suggested. That each of these dedicated and gifted leaders share, for around 25-30 minutes each. First, in 10 minutes, the individual share with the team
- 3 challenges they face in implementing their role in 2015
- 2 things they most need from the team
- 1 question they don’t currently know the answer too
Second, in 15 minutes the team respond to the one question. Whether in groups or as a whole group, we as a team offer our good minds in working with the challenges these innovations face. My hope was that as a result of this process, we as a team would be better informed, that individuals would feel heard and supported and that from the brainstorming some constructive ideas might emerge.
The process worked well. The energy in the room went right up. The discussion was deep, rich and engaging.
But the next day, something unexpected happened. We were discussing our team values and someone piped up. “We need to add take risk and celebrate failure. You see, we’ve got all these innovations happening and one way to support them is to be willing to risk and learn in our journey together.” And around the room, the team nodded.
It was a lovely moment to watch. I don’t know many theological colleges that have risk and fail in their team values. One of my goals in becoming Principal was to increase the innovative capacity of the organisation and here it was emerging so spontaneously and naturally, from the team, not me. Engaging innovation was resulting in cultural change. Simply by creating processes to listen and reflect.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
minding the gap in team formation
Minding the gap can build teams and form cultures. Let me tell you what happened, then unpack the learnings.
It began yesterday during chapel. The reader of the Gospel reading missed some words. Instead of
For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
the reader initially offered us
For God so loved the world
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Realising the gap, the reader quickly, and appropriately, corrected themselves.
The missing words got me thinking. Those 8 words. What would it mean if they were not just missing, but actually absent. What type of faith would we have if those words were not in the Bible? What type of life might be lived, if there really was no “that he gave his one and only Son”?
To put it another way. Christ-centred is one of the core values of Uniting College. So, if we as a College had no Christ, would it make any tangible difference to life, to our teaching and the way we treat each other?
I decided to make this the focus of our team devotions today. It would offer a continuity with what was a great chapel. It would allow us to explore a core value. In addition, we also have four folk new to our team in the last 3 months. So this conversation might enable them to be drawn more deeply into our team culture.
So I began the devotion, by pointing out the gap. I’d produced the words, the complete verse and the verse with the words missing, on a sheet of paper for folk to hold and handle. In pairs I invited them to reflect on what happened if those words went missing and on whether faith would be different. Each pair fed back, ensuring a shared voice across the team. And then together as a whole group, I asked if the presence of Jesus does in any way affect our workplace.
The conversation was excellent, animated and intense. A newcomer observed that the missing 8 words spoke of love. And her experience of our workplace was of nurture. Which could only come from love. So yes, Jesus obviously was important. Another noted that these words were an invitation, not an imposition. So our commitment to Christ could be done in way in which faith need not be forced. Others noted they had no interest in teaching leadership without Christ and that without Jesus, homiletics was simply motivational speaking. Which they were not in the least interested in teaching. So yes, Jesus was important.
So what did I learn about team formation?
- First, that the most effective teaching tool can be a question. In this case “do those missing words matter?”
- Second, that observation can open up significant learning. In this case one simple observation – of 8 missing words; followed by the question - resulted in an excellent collaborative discussion.
- Third, that those new to a team, as they find their voice, can add important richness and perspective to a team discussion.
- Fourth, that team culture is never static. It requires constant work. Tonight, the Uniting College team culture is richer than it was this morning. Because I minded the gap.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Worth coming for the creative resources alone
“It’s worth coming for the creative resources alone,” said a happy punter as they tucked the order of worship into their bag. Yesterday we kicked off at Uniting College another year of Leadership Formation Days.
These aim to build community among individuals on the journey to ordination. So yesterday in small groups and with the aid of colour chips of paint, relationships were built.
They invite reflection on the practice of ministry. So yesterday input on Pauline spirituality and adaptive leadership in resource poor congregations. A rich, deep study of how Paul’s spirituality of ministry connected with the work of Heifetz (Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading), and provided richness for ministers in aging congregations.
They provide prayer and worship – in ways that are “worth coming for the creative resources alone.” So yesterday praise, for the generations before who had formed us, and intercession, for the generations we are involved in forming.
Names written on yellow and orange post-it notes, placed around the edge of the communion table. On which some godly play around the lectionary text was done, the giving of the 10 commandments. On which the communion elements, bread and wine were shared.
They share stories, in order to build our ability to work with the living documents that are the lives of people. So yesterday, two stories of the journey to ministry and the journey in ministry. A few tears, as redemption was enfleshed.
Monday, February 02, 2015
Today the Uniting College team takes time out. Not to sit in the naughty corner, but to renew and refocus.
Half of our time will be spent on spiritual renewal. We want to be a team that not only works but also worships. So together during the retreat we will enjoy some Godly play, with a Children’s ministry leader from a local church present to invite us to wonder at the Biblical story we find ourselves in. Individually, people have also been asked to bring what renews them. There is space for folk to do that and then to gather and share that with each other, underlining our diversity as a community.
The other half of our time will be spent on planning. We have two tasks. One is to take forward the Capacity Builder strategic plan that guides and holds us. 2015 is the last year of the (four year) plan, and there are some as yet untouched areas that we need to focus on. We have done some parts of our plan superbly, but there at some areas we have yet to touch. These include
- Faculty increasing their research output
- Student formation enhanced through the use of journals in which they share courageous attempts to integrate learning with practice
- Every ordination candidate able to articulate a plan toward innovation and invigoration
- Regional delivery, taking College to the local church
So I will be suggesting a process whereby the structures we have created over the last few years can be deployed to enable us to achieve these agreed goals. (It is so good having a plan, which means we gather around already agreed momentum).
We also have to re-tell the story of our team culture. We have a set of team values that we continue to articulate and revisit. We will do that again, pausing to check that these values say all that needs to be said about how we want to “be” and “do” with each other in this current season. This is also an act of hospitality, allowing those new to the team to hear if you like, part of our family story.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
colouring my leadership
Over my recent summer holidays, I appreciated the New Zealand landscape. Four colours in particular grabbed me. They were the grey of alpine stone, the blue of glacial water, the green of Westcoast forest and the yellow of the alpine daisy, each an important memory in a road trip that Team Taylor took to the Westcoast.
I pondered some way to take these holiday experiences into my working year. The process began by reflecting on the emotion that each colour generated in me, those feelings of concrete stability (alpine grey), of awe at nature (glacier blue), at the outrageous growth possible due to West coast rain (forest green), at the joy of exploration that meant an encounter with the very rare alpine daisies that grow around Castle Hill.
I then sought to reduce each colour to a word. One word. This was difficult, but the work paid off.
As I pondered these words, I realised that each word, each colour, could actually be applied to my vocation as Principal.
- grey=clarity, as I communicate, chair meetings, conduct performance appraisals, ask questions
- blue=wonder, as I ask “what is God up to?” in the candidates I am part of forming, in the classes I teach, in the team I lead
- yellow=explore, as I seek in my research and reading to keep addressing the questions of mission and ministry
- green=create, as I have some specific writing projects that I want to deliver on
In turn, I then began to imagine how my weekly diary might look. Grey (clarity) and blue (wonder) are the colours of my day to day work. Yellow (explore) is the research time that I programme into my Fridays. Green (create) is what happens in study leave and with my “hour a day” of writing habit that while I struggle to maintain, has a been a great help in enhancing my writing output in recent years.
The colours have changed my attitudes to work. As I journal at the end of each day, I focus now not only on what happened, but on the colour. How have I been part of bringing clarity? Where have I seen wonder? As I turn to write for an hour a day, often tiredly, I am refreshed by thinking of green, the invitation to create.
To give one specific example, the day I arrived back from holiday, my PA regretfully told me that she needed to resign, due to personal reasons relating to an unexpected and critical health concern in the family. The colours shaped my response. How could I bring grey/clarity in my communication with team and wider? What, I wonder, might God be doing in this totally unexpected news?
The colours helped me look at life in new ways. It enabled me to pray in new ways. Equally importantly, I have a deep sense that the joy of recreation that is part of summer is continuing with me into my working week.
Each of us will have different colours. Each of us have different ways to recreate. Each of us have different working weeks. But I wonder what your colours would be? And how they might shape how you engage with your working place?
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
the mindfulness of vocation
I love the way the prophets’ call begins (Old Testament Lectionary reading for Sunday 25 January 2015). In Jeremiah 1:4, “Now the word of the Lord came …”
Not yesterday or tomorrow, but now.
There is a time-bound, fully present, mindfulness to this call.
The entire passage in Jeremiah 1:4-10 is laced with God’s action. Considers the verbs – forms, knows, consecrates, appoints, sends, commands, delivers, touches (mouth), appoints. The whole process is about God’s actions.
The prophet is only a participant. What that requires of the human in response to God’s action, is a participation in the now.
One contemporary word to describe this is mindfulness. It’s common in schools and wellbeing workshops. It’s the intentional focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.
On the now. This body, this community, this set of challenges, these invitations. I know churches and organisations caught up in God’s action yesterday. I know leaders who live constantly for the future. The challenge of Jeremiah 1:4 is for leaders to be in the now, responding to God’s actions in and around them.
This brings into play two essential practices of mission, those of listening and discernment. Listening, in order to pay attention to the “now” of God’s action; discerning, naming what it might mean to participate in what God is doing. Both of these practices, what Rowan Williams calls the first acts of mission, are “now” activities.
They will bring an alternative tomorrow, they will draw wisdom from yesterday. But they begin with the “now” of God’s action.
Thursday, November 06, 2014
too busy not to listen
As the Semester ends at Uniting College there is the usual tiredness, mixed with piles (and piles) of marking. At times of busyness, the need to make time to listen is even more important. In fact, listening is one of the most important things a leader can offer their community. We have two ears but only one tongue for a reason. Hence the following invite, being sent out to our students in the next few days. It is an invite to be listened to ….
It has been a year of significant change for students at 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park. Whether you are studying for a Flinders University or Adelaide College of Divinity award, there have been changes – with new technologies, with the library, in ecumenical relationships.
As the year ends, Janet Buchan (Executive Officer, ACD) and Steve Taylor (Principal, Uniting College), would like to spend some time listening to students. Whether you are undergraduate or postgraduate, part-time or full-time, we would like to hear from you.
What is working well? What could work better?
We will offer you pizza. We will guide you through a process of clarifying and refining the good and the bad.
We make three commitments
- We will provide you with pizza if you RSVP
- We will listen
- We will make what emerges a priority for us into 2015.
Date: Wednesday, November 19, 5:30 pm-7:15 pm, student common room. RSVP by Monday, November 17, to lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au
Hoping to see you
Janet Buchan and Steve Taylor